Japan's Bid to Dispatch Soldiers Abroad Falters to Improve Its Image, Tokyo Is Considering a Law to Allow Troops to Join UN Peacekeeping Forces

Article excerpt

A YEAR after first debating whether to send troops to the Gulf effort, Japan has once again hesitated to decide if it should ever dispatch its combat forces overseas.

Parliament adjourned last week without passing a bill to allow Japanese soldiers to serve in United Nations (UN) peace-keeping forces. The measure to permit Japanese troops to serve outside the country was strongly promoted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has been trying to expand the military role of a nation that thinks of itself as pacifist.

But support for the bill faltered when LDP leaders made an awkward interpretation of Japan's "peace" Constitution, which bans force in solving global conflicts. The LDP claimed the use of guns by Japanese soldiers in a UN force would not be the same as the use of force.

An outcry by the political opposition and the news media against this attempt at a legal distinction delayed a final vote. Passage is not expected until at least late November, when parliament is expected to reconvene.

The Asahi newspaper referred to the LDP's explanation as "opportunistic" and an attempt to "call a spade a diamond." The Japan Times said, "This kind of spurious argument has been effective to a certain extent toward the domestic audience, but will only be accepted as illogical petti-fogging by other nations."

The delay in passing the bill has caused some anxiety among the LDP and government officials for three reasons.

One is that they are eager for Japanese troops to join a UN peace-keeping force expected to enter Cambodia in early November, when a settlement of that conflict is likely to take effect. Such a step would mark a new era for Japan in Asia.

"Japan intends to make personnel and financial contributions ... to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia which has been ravaged by years of war," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

Another reason is that Japanese leaders want to dampen criticism in the United States over the nation's refusal to send rear-line personnel to the multinational forces during the Gulf war. The criticism has worsened US-Japan economic friction.

"Whatever impression people had of Japan before, it should not be taken for granted," says Foreign Ministry spokesman Taizo Watanabe. "We are changing in a better direction."

And a third reason for the bill is to prepare the Japanese for another type of military dispatch, slated for next fall.

The government plans to send naval ships and helicopters to guard a freighter carrying a shipment of plutonium back from Europe, where it has been recycled from spent nuclear fuel. The military escort is needed to prevent possible terrorist hijacking of the freighter, which must travel for five or six weeks over some 18,000 miles of ocean.

Officials have tried to lay the groundwork, both at home and abroad, for acceptance of a Japanese move to send combat soldiers overseas for the first time since the end of World War II. …